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On being an active learner

The idea for this blog post came to me quite suddenly. I've been reading An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (great book, loving it so far - albeit I'm only about fifty pages in.) Without giving too much away, the premise of the book is this: April May stumbles across a giant sculpture one night, films a video of it with her friend and becomes a viral sensation. Obviously I'm yet to find out who or what these mysterious giant sculptures are and what else April May discovers, but one thing that stood out to me was her initial reaction to what she assumed was a pop-up art installation. The protagonist almost walks right past the giant transformer-like statue without giving it so much as a second glance, but then decides that, actually, that is precisely what she shouldn't do. Being a design graduate herself, April muses over the importance of appreciating something that someone else has created. I mused over this, too, and damn, I didn't fully comprehend just how quickly we acquire knowledge on a daily basis before quickly shoving it to one side in search of more, up-to-date and interesting knowledge.

In fact, it's not only knowledge, it could be art, as explored in Green's book. I think it's especially true of art. Anything that someone puts their time and effort into to create is at risk of being forgotten almost instantaneously. Unless you're Michaelangelo or da Vinci, creating something that stands the test of time is a pretty big challenge. As a writer, I'm keenly aware of the process of creating something that I'm proud of, and actually being proud enough to put it out for the world to see. Or maybe it isn't something that I'm proud of, but it's something that I think is helpful or challenging or interesting for someone else to read. We don't necessarily have to share everything we make or do, but I think the act of putting something out there is a courageous one, in a sense. People can be harsh and judgemental, and it's understandable that creators fear backlash. But then again, perhaps what is worse than getting negative feedback is people forgetting about what you've done or made and moving onto something else at the click of a finger.

As I mention in most of my blog posts, we are living in a fast-paced age of technology (yes, yes, duh) and not only that, but we are living in an age of quick disposal. Quick accumulation, and quick disposal. Our accumulation of things - and I mean things in the literal sense as well as the figurative sense - is more rapid than ever before because, apparently, we have less time. Well, that's not even true - we have the same amount of time as we've always had (more, in fact, because humans are living longer and longer these days) so perhaps the correct way to put it is that we are doing more with our time. Cramming it, filling it to the brim, leaving little space for self-reflection or effort. It's almost as if we need to tick things off a list, to achieve as much as possible without actually relishing and appreciating those things. I have a good example of this. Years ago, when I caught the travelling bug, I was determined to jet off to as many places as possible. This is a pretty standard reaction to discovering just how great it can be to visit different countries and nurture your independence. However, it got to a point where I decided that I wanted to visit every single capital city in Europe. I drew up a list and began ticking off the likes of Paris, Berlin, Zagreb. I remember telling my mum about this, and the first thing she said was: 'do you want to go to every single capital city in Europe?' No. No, I didn't.

Don't get me wrong, there are fascinating things to see in every place, but the point is that I wasn't in love with the places I intended to visit. I was in love with the idea of going to these places. I was enamoured by the idea of ticking off items on my list, of the potential sense of achievement I would feel by the end of my travels. This is just one example, but I can think of more times I have been more invested in the act of acquiring, of learning, of achieving rather than what I was acquiring, learning or achieving. A subtle difference, but a huge one at the same time. How can I be more of an active learner, then? An active learner, I suppose, means you learn something and then use this knowledge in some way, shape or form. Maybe you reflect on it. This can be said of art as well, whether that's a book we read, a film we watch or a piece of artwork that we look at in a gallery. I think, after having done my own reflection, that it's really important to take time to mull over what new thing we've uncovered. Obviously we're learning new things every day, but I'm talking about something that really makes us think, say 'oh, wow!' or moves us. I also think that maybe I write not only to create, but to take in. Writing can be passive as well as active. It's a bit like a sponge - you can absorb just as much as you can squeeze out. I guess I preach pretty much the same thing in all of my posts these days - use your brain. Don't just absorb. Squeeeeeeze stuff out. Interact.

One of the things I want to start doing more is talking about something I've learnt - having a conversation about it with someone and then in turn that will open the door to more conversations. Before you know it, you're learning about someone else's experience, you're being given a new perspective, you're challenging someone or educating someone or maybe they're educating you. Maybe you've visited a tourist attraction and learnt about the history. Maybe instead of coming out of the building and saying, 'well, that was cool', talk about what was cool. Was there something that surprised you? Was there something that shocked you? What was the best thing? Or the worst? Maybe you could go home and do some research, extend your knowledge further? What did your friend think? (Maybe you're a lonely egg and actually went to the castle by yourself, lol.) I'm now aware that I sound like a lecturer, so maybe I'll stop with the probing questions (good questions though, innit?!) I guess I just feel like things disappear too quickly, and maybe they deserve to stick around a little bit longer. Also there's a lot of sh*t in the spotlight these days - you often have to do your own digging to find stuff of interest and value. Unfortunate but true. We're surrounded by snippets of shallow crap when in reality there are lots and lots more things that we could be exploring and sharing (Kardashians, I'm looking at you.) I'm aware that maybe this is all kind of obvious to some people but...honestly, I don't think I really deeped just how much more we can do to be appreciative, to be active, to be listeners. Let's stop doing stuff just for the sake of it and actually do what we want to do with enthusiasm. Quality over quantity and all that.


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